“What is most important is getting together in person”
Interview with Peter Humeniuk, head of the Russian section of Aid to the Church in Need, who was given the opportunity to talk about ACN’s works and Father Werenfried at an international conference held at the Orthodox University in Moscow.
The interview was conducted by Eva-Maria Kolmann
Question: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was recently invited to speak at an international conference held at the Orthodox University in Moscow. You represented Aid to the Church in Need there. Please tell us about it!
Peter Humeniuk: It was a very nice experience. An exhibition and lecture on ACN and the life’s work of our founder Father Werenfried were held during the conference, which was entitled “The Unexpected Gift of Mercy”. The Orthodox University is not far from the site where, almost 25 years ago on 13 October 1992, Father Werenfried prayed the rosary on Red Square. It was wonderful to be able to hold the lecture there. The Orthodox church’s invitation shows that our efforts to establish a dialogue with the Orthodox church in Russia, which we began in 1992 in response to a request from Pope John Paul II, are also being appreciated on the part of the Orthodox church. The Orthodox University in Moscow is a very important institution. To have been invited there as a Catholic pastoral charity means something.
What was especially great for you?
PH: It was especially great that many from the audience came up to me after my lecture to ask me questions. They were clearly fascinated by what we do and what Father Werenfried did. I think that what is most important is getting together in person, bearing witness, getting to know each other and entering into a dialogue. It was also a pleasure to see how much effort the Russian organiser of the event put into the photo exhibition. Although we provided the photographs from our archives, the exhibition itself was set up by the local organisers. It turned out exceptionally well. These are small things, but they are a clear sign of the high regard in which we are held. Representatives from the magazine Russia Christiana and the Dukhovnaya Biblioteka, an ecumenical cultural centre in Moscow whose work we have been promoting with advice and support for many years, as well as a longstanding employee of the Foreign Office of the Moscow Patriarchate also made substantial contributions to the event. The collaboration was outstanding.
What does this mean for Aid to the Church in Need?
PH: For us it is a confirmation that our efforts and work are appreciated and honoured by both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches in Russia.
It is gratifying that, following the historic meeting of Pope Francis and Moscow Patriarch Kirill in Havana in February of this year, we were among the first to take action in response to their joint message. During this meeting, the two church leaders specifically spoke out about the need for Catholics and Orthodox to work together to help Christians in the Middle East and to promote peace in Syria. As a first reaction to this, in April of this year, Aid to the Church in Need invited a Catholic-Orthodox delegation from Russia to meet with representatives of the churches in Syria and Lebanon to plan and initiate joint campaigns.
When Patriarch Kirill recently celebrated his 70th birthday, Cardinal Kurt Koch was among the well-wishers. The patriarch expressly praised the meeting we had initiated in Damascus, calling it an “important meeting”. It is nice to see that the joint document of pope and patriarch is already starting to bear fruit and that we at Aid to the Church in Need can help ensure that the concerns of the church leaders do not only exist in abstract form on paper, but are put into action. This really does help people. In a further step, documentation on Christians who suffered martyrdom in Syria is to be gathered, including a compilation of the damage done to Christian houses of God.
Are there other examples of joint steps that are currently being taken?
PH: Yes, of course. I would like to mention one other: a Catholic-Orthodox work group was formed in Russia, which I have been asked to join as a representative of ACN. This work group not only concerns itself with possible joint campaigns in Syria and the Middle East, but also with another very important topic. The pope and the patriarch of Moscow also spoke out about their mutual concerns for the protection of human life and the Christian family. The Catholic-Orthodox work group recently met with the Curia of the Catholic archbishop of Moscow to discuss what the two churches could do to, for example, campaign against abortion. This is something that is not just purely theoretical; children are really being saved by this. Is this not the most beautiful evidence that joining forces is a worthwhile endeavour?
What do you conclude from these events?
PH: I think that the historic events that are taking place parallel to our efforts are a sign that a collaboration between Catholics and Orthodox is necessary in view of these most urgent challenges. In this, I am thinking about the genocide of Christians in the Middle East, the dignity of life, the future of the Christian family. The dialogue must not remain in the abstract, it needs to be reinforced by joint action and initiatives. The two churches come forward together for specific projects and speak in a united voice. In this sense, the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana also provided orientation and was a call for further efforts.